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Promoting Your Program and Meeting Funding Demands for Preservation and Security

13. Securing Preservation FundsNational and Institutional Requirements
Deanna B. Marcum

Focusing on a national rather than an institutional perspective toward the subject of funding for the work of preservation is an opportunity I welcome. Such funding is a major concern for me personally and for the organization I represent, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), a private nonprofit organization that gets people together to work on issues affecting the ability of libraries and archives to serve their constituencies. Preservation funding is certainly such an issue, and we have long been involved. The council came into being through the recombination of the Council on Library Resources and the Commission on Preservation and Access, which the council earlier had organized to concentrate on such problems as how to prevent the loss of massive collections printed on acidic paper. The CLIR as a whole continues to promote attention to "brittle books" along with many other preservation concerns, including the problems of preserving increasing quantities of digitized information.

Is funding adequate for dealing with such needs? Far from it. Not that there is active opposition. Nearly everyone regards preservation as a good thing. Who is not in favor of preserving the intellectual and cultural record, the materials on which teaching and research depend, the heritage of centuries of civilization? The fact that it is considered a good thing has not, however, been sufficient to guarantee adequate funding for preservation in American research institutions.

Preservation funding is, in fact, imperiled. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, the majority of major research libraries in the United States developed preservation programs. Advocacy for meeting preservation needs came from several national organizations along with mine, and providers of funds both in the private sector and in government responded with support. The National Endowment for the Humanities, to take a prominent example, began in 1988 its program of grant-making for microfilming deteriorating books and newspaper collections.

But support peaked early in the 1990s and now seems in relative decline. A report issued in 1999 on preserving research collections found that preservation expenditures in member institutions of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) have been little more than level since 1993, despite growth in total materials expenditures. The report also found that external funding for preservation has declined steadily and that staffing has declined as well. [1] The most recently published ARL preservation statistics show a significant decrease also in the volume of microfilming activity. [2]

Why these discouraging developments? Preservation funding is imperiled for a number of reasons. First, private funding tends to follow trends, and currently there is keen interest in digitization as a means of making materials accessible to new and broader audiences. Consequently access projects are far more likely than preservation projects to succeed in the competitive review process. Although the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for example, continues to be supportive of preservation work, funding for microfilming has been redirected to digitization projects.

Second, something similar is happening in federal agencies. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution have adopted strategies that emphasize access for the K-12 audience as well as for the general public. Such an emphasis on accountability and service to all constituents gives preference to funding requests that enhance access. The strategies to improve access have increased the visibility of these agencies and have led to better relationships with Congress. We can hope that this will eventually lead to greater funding that can be applied also to such important activities as preservation.

Moreover, the stagnation of the NEH budget in recent years has hurt research libraries, which had taken considerable advantage of the Endowment's microfilming support. [3] The NEH preservation microfilming program is within its Division of Preservation and Access. The division's annual allocation within the NEH budget dropped from $22 million in fiscal 1995 to less than $17 million in fiscal 1996, and it rose only slightly above $18 million in the succeeding four fiscal years. [4] Projects to develop tools and resources for scholarship now compete with microfilming for funds available from NEH. And the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which has a funding category for "preservation and digitization," seems thus far to be funding digitization projects only.

Finally preservation funding suffers because we have not advanced a compelling national plan for preserving important resources. In the absence of such a plan, we are without strategies in which we can collaborate to strengthen our appeal for funding. Projects continue to come piecemeal to funders, unsupported by a context of national urgency and unrelated to a set of priorities for meeting our massive preservation needs. Overcoming this disability is critical, I believe, for countering the declines I have described in funding—both public and private.

How do we begin such a plan? The Council on Library and Information Resources proposes to collaborate with the Association of Research Libraries, the Oberlin Group of liberal arts colleges, and a group of comprehensive university libraries not members of ARL in a study that will be the first step. Using techniques both quantitative and qualitative, we plan to evaluate current preservation conditions and challenges, identify indicators of health, and recommend means for revitalizing preservation programs. Specific investigations we propose to make include the following:

(1) We must analyze preservation statistics in relation to significant trends affecting American libraries. When in 2000 ARL member libraries reported a decline of 12.5 percent in circulation since 1995 and a significant decline also in purchased volumes (26 percent in monographs and 6 percent in serial titles) since 1986, we had to ask whether there was a concomitant drop in the need for physical preservation. [5] Did these figures correlate with such core preservation activities as binding, pre-shelf processing, and book repair? What effect have major retrospective cataloging projects had on preservation activities, and are these projects nearing completion?

(2) Libraries of all types report significant increases in their digital acquisitions and conversions, but few have developed adequate strategies for digital preservation. [6] What role should preservation programs have in shaping institutional policies for digital preservation? Has there been a shift in preservation resources to meet these needs?

(3) In 1991, ARL issued benchmarks for selected core activities in preservation programs. [7] Are these still valid despite changing circumstances of ownership and access?

(4) We must address the brittle-books strategy developed in the 1980s in light of changing fortunes in NEH and consequent repercussions for funding. Is the strategy compatible with new directions in library preservation programs?

(5) We must ask why institutions are finding it difficult to attract top professionals to preservation positions. What is the state of preservation education in library and information studies programs? What can national professional organizations do to develop preservation leadership skills and revitalize preservation leadership?

(6) Consortial structures for preservation work, such as regional conservation centers, depend heavily on outside funding. The Mellon Foundation is investigating possible business models for greater self-sufficiency. What can we learn from such studies to strengthen cooperative preservation activities? We should study strategies for financing preservation programs that have succeeded in research libraries and how they can be applied elsewhere. Are institutions using local resources for preservation, or do they rely on foundations and other external funds?

Once we have the proposed report's answers to these questions, we will convene a conference of senior preservation administrators, library directors, professional organization representatives, and relevant others. We will ask them to consider, in light of the report's findings, the role and the effectiveness of preservation programs in the digital age. We will challenge them to develop a plan of action for meeting preservation needs in American libraries, archives, and related repositories.

The time for this is now. Even as funding is slipping, digital technologies present new options for efficiency and effectiveness in preservation as well as new technical and conceptual challenges. For example, once a book is digitized and, with proper maintenance, made electronically available indefinitely, will a need remain for every library with a paper copy to invest scant resources in preserving it? Or, would library funds go further if we collectively created national repositories to preserve "artifact" copies of low-use materials, while making electronic or microfilmed copies available to all our patrons?

After all, we are not preserving collections just for the benefit of each of our institutions. We are collectively caring for—and preparing to pass on—the cultural inheritance of our society. We must therefore articulate the urgent need for preservation until it becomes a national priority. Do not conclude that you may safely leave all this to national organizations such as the Council on Library Resources or the Association of Research Libraries. Ultimately each individual institution must view itself as a contributor to the national collection of accessible scholarly resources, accept responsibility for preserving a share of such materials, collaborate to reduce the burdens of that responsibility, and help make the case for support of this work to those who control resources.

Neither individually nor collectively can we discard our obligations to be stewards of our collections. Preservation continues to be a critically important issue, and we must all accept the responsibility of keeping it in the forefront of our concerns. Funders will find the case for meeting any institution's individual needs more attractive if the contribution you are making to the nation's heritage is justified in terms of collaborative efforts to achieve economies. Together, we can preserve our cultural inheritance.

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  The Library of Congress >> To Preserve and Protect
   September 15, 2008
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